The news that the Nuu-chah-nulth on Vancouver Island are considering hunting a small number of sea otter each year for ceremonial purposes will not make the First Nation popular with anyone who has seen these cuddly creatures floating in their pool at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Sea otters once inhabited the North Pacific rim from Japan to Mexico in the hundreds of thousands. Their luxurious pelts made them a valuable target for traders, however, and in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century a ruthless hunt led to their extirpation from many locales, including the coast of BC, where by 1929 there were no otters left.
In the late 1960s scientists decided to try repopulating our coast using a remnant population in Alaska as the source of animals. Between 1969 and 1972, 89 sea otters were installed in the Bunsby Islands south of the Brooks Peninsula on the west coast of Vancouver Island . The transplantation was a success. Surveys earlier this decade found that the BC population numbers around 3,200 animals and is growing, and expanding its range, at a pretty healthy rate.
It seems to me that the sea otter has the potential to become the Pacific Coast's harp seal, in the sense that as the population becomes healthy and numerous pressure will increase on the government to allow a controlled hunt, just as seals are hunted off Newfoundland, with the same outcry from environmentalists. I hope not, but Nuu-chah-nulth plans may be just the beginning of another nasty environmental dispute.